The Scalloping Season
It’s time to go overboard for a local seafood favorite
Summertime in North Florida usually means spending time outdoors grilling, fishing, splashing around the ol’ swimming hole and, for Big Bend residents, scooping up bay scallops. Not only do you beat the heat diving for these tender, tasty bivalves, but you can come home with a little something for the frying pan without the fuss and muss of fishing gear.
Bay scallops are harvested only in a region that runs north of Tampa up around the bend to St. Joe Bay. There are three harvest seasons in North Florida: The 2017 season runs June 16–Sept. 10 in Taylor and Dixie counties; July 1–Sept. 24 in Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin counties; and
July 25–Sept. 10 in Gulf County/St. Joe Bay.
Catching scallops is a fairly straightforward process, but there are some things you need to know before going overboard. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, recreational scallopers between ages 16 and 65 have to have a saltwater fishing license, and you need to post a dive flag — regardless of whether you’re using a boat or wading from the shore. You also can’t possess scallops on any water outside the harvest area. The harvest limit is two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per person. There’s a maximum limit of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or a half-gallon of scallop meat per vessel.
The best scallop depth is between four and eight feet, so you don’t need much gear aside from a dive mask, snorkel and maybe fins. A mesh bag can be used to hold your catch, and you can either use a dip net or your bare hands to corral them. Your quarry can be well camouflaged in the grass, so clear water conditions are a must. Also, don’t expect them to just sit still. Scallops will try to swim away from you; but the good news is they don’t go very fast or far.
Once you are satisfied with your catch, you have to keep the scallops preserved somehow until you’re ready to shuck them. If you’re on a boat, a live well works fine. But a cooler will also serve, as long as you keep them away from ice water runoff. Scallops are sensitive to temperature change, but exposure to fresh water will kill them. The optimal solution is to use a live well when on the water but to put them on ice right before shucking. Ice makes the shells easier to open. Once open, some folks use a shop vac to remove the unwanted parts, while others may do it by hand with either a knife or a spoon.
Bay Scallop Trivia
The bay scallop is a bivalve, which has two shells (valves) joined by a hinge. Like many marine animals, the bay scallop is countershaded; that is, the top shell is darker than the bottom and provides a form of camouflage. They are filter feeders and use gills to extract oxygen from the water.
A ring of striking blue eyes helps the bay scallop detect predators. It can “swim” by rapidly clapping its shells together, which produces enough thrust to propel itself away from danger.